Republicans Can Win the Youth Vote

President Obama employed an unorthodox, but extremely effective strategy in the 2008 elections. In both the primary and general elections, the Obama campaign built a broad-based coalition of voters that crossed generational, class and racial lines.

One of the most successful, and from a Republican point of view, disconcerting, strategies the campaign employed was to get huge numbers of young voters to vote for him, and unprecedented numbers of young people to turn out and vote. 

One of the most profound misconceptions in American politics is that young people always have, and always will vote for Democrats. In 1984 Ronald Reagan won the young vote by more than 20 points. In 1988, George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis by a comfortable margin. In 2000, the youth vote matched up with the rest of the electorate and voted evenly for both candidates. With some context, it’s clear that Obama’s performance among young voters in 2008 was an anomaly. 

Fortunately, the Republican Party’s disastrous performance among 18-29 year olds in 2008 served as a major wake up call. The party is now focusing on winning the youth demographic with great energy—and the Democrats have been helping Republicans in this effort. The initiatives imposed by the Democrats in Congress and President Obama have sent young people on a frantic search for an alternative.

Two-thirds of the youth demographic voted for Obama in 2008. By February of this year, the President’s approval rating among these same voters had declined to 54%, and though there hasn’t been any recent polling done exclusively with young voters, it’s likely that this approval has continued to decline. This erosion in support for the left was manifested in New Jersey and Virginia late last year when Republican candidates in both states won among young voters, and we firmly believe that it will become even clearer in this fall’s elections.

With youth unemployment at 20%—more than twice the national average—and a national debt that has grown to the point where young voters now face a $118,000 bill for their share, the urgency among young people to change course has grown. 

At the College Republican National Committee, we are working furiously to turn this rightward trend into a wave for the 2010 elections. 

Our “Operation Red November” campaign has deployed 25 full-time field organizers in five target states. These highly trained field staff are building new College Republican chapters, recruiting new members and mobilizing young people to get to work on behalf of Republican candidates.

Since the program kicked off just three weeks ago, we have already seen tens of thousands of students take the “Red November” pledge to work on behalf of Republican candidates this fall. 

We have also launched an issue advocacy program titled, “Don’t Put It On Our Tab.” This program seeks to inform young people of the dangers posed by the national debt to their futures, and to contextualize the enormous and horrifying scope of the debt that this administration and this Congress have piled on them. 

To bring the case home, the CRNC will be airing ads for the first time in our organization’s 118-year history. These ads focus on the need to bring lasting and meaningful change to America so that young people will be able to count on the same bright future full of opportunity that America has offered to every previous generation. They will air during programs that young people are disproportionately likely to watch and in markets with a high number of college students. 

With a concerted effort and a clear message, we will bring young voters back to the Republican Party. We believe that the party represents the aspirations of America’s younger generations, and that our policies are the responsible, sustainable alternative that young people are looking for. 

A Republican victory in November will not just mean success in the present—it will also represent viability well into the future.